Can you remember the details of your dinner last night, such as who you ate with, what you ate, and where you were? How about the day of your high school graduation? These are examples of episodic memory, a type of complex long-term autobiographical memory that we humans have. Now scientists believe dogs may have it, too.
Claudia Fugazza and her colleagues at the Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, conducted a study testing the memory of canine subjects. The results were published online in Current Biology on November 23.
The researchers took several steps during their study. First, they trained 17 dogs to repeat an action performed by their trainers, specifically touching an open umbrella (scroll down for video). After the trainer touched the umbrella, the dog was commanded to “do it,” or repeat the action.
Next, the dogs were taught to lie down after that same action was completed by the trainer. The dogs came to expect this command, and began lying down without being asked, the researchers reported.
After that time, the handlers surprised the dogs by asking them to “do it” after intervals ranging from one minute to one hour from the handler completing the action. For the dogs to remember the action the handler completed (touching the umbrella) and copy it would require them to use episodic memory. The researchers found that 60 percent of the dogs were able to complete the command after one minute. Only 35 percent were able to complete it after one hour, proving that, like in humans, dogs’ memory fades over time.
“It tells us that the dog’s memory is more similar to ours than we expected,” Dr. Fugazza said, adding, “Dogs probably pay more attention to us than we think and observe us more than we think.”
See a video of the study: